Friday, 24 August 2012

Computers for serious work - tablets and smartphones just don't cut the mustard

Reading the instructions for an online survey, I was reminded of the difference in experience between computers (desktops, laptops) and tablets and smartphones:
"Please notice that this survey is best completed using a computer. You may experience some technical problems if you use a tablet or smartphone due to limitations with those devices."
How true.
Over the holiday I traveled with my i-Pad. Admittedly first generation. But it was very frustrating when I wanted to PRODUCE something with it. It was an excellent consumption device (I now agree with BillT of Click on this one).
So, what does this mean for tablets and smartphones in schools? Learning is not just consumption, it is doing. How fit for purpose are these devices?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Powerpoint - a help or a curse for learning and teaching?

There has been much said about PowerPoint as a presentation tool. Most of the comments have been negative and phrases such as "death by PowerPoint" sum up what many say it's like on the receiving end.
Schools have "guidelines" on how we should be presenting. Here is ours - notice it is aimed at both teachers and students (thanks Judith and Secondary School staff for these points):

Rationale for reviewing existing guidelines.
  • Digital presentations frequently have too much information on the screen
  • Many articles now refer to how Digital slide-shows are ineffective for the reader/listener
  • Too many words on the screen and people read more quickly than people speak and so they focus on just reading, not listening
  • For the presenters - our students - they need to prepare well and really do some proper research and think about what they want to say to have maximum impact on the audience. Now they just read the bullet points. If we restrict words and bullets they will have to prepare more thoroughly and imaginatively. This means they should learn more in the process and the listeners should be more "entertained" and informed.
A Presentation is a visual, aural and/or verbal representation of a message
  1. Why do we want to deliver a message?
    • to inform
    • to persuade
  2. A good presentation should
    • have a clear and simple message
    • be well prepared and delivered with confidence
    • take account of the needs and expectations of the audience
    • try to involve the audience
    • use a variety of media – photos, audio files, video clips
  3. How can we get across a message?
    • Digital (like a PowerPoint)
    • Aural (like a taped interview)
    • Verbal – someone talking, but not to be recommended on its own
    • A poster, with explanations by the presenter
    • A display, with explanations by the presenter
    • A drama
Some Dos and Don't s for teachers and students for any Digital Presentation

For teachers
  1. Please don't have requirements like: include fifteen slides--one should be your introduction, one should include your thesis, five should include specific evidence, etc. The number of slides is not the issue - the effective and efficient delivery of the message is!!
  2. Students need to be encouraged to follow these guidelines in all their presentations. Not being able to read off the slide will require better research and understanding before the students can attempt to deliver the message.
  3. Teachers should provide clear and specific tasks
  4. Students should be provided with the guidelines and rubric beforehand
  5. Show students good examples that model these guidelines.
  6. Encourage peer assessment. This should be done under guidance/detailed instructions, ie: it is better to give students a rubric or certain criteria. Peer assessment should only form part of the overall presentation assessment.

  1. Prepare well (know your topic).
  2. Rehearse well.
  3. Never read from the slide in a presentation.
  4. Don’t ask or expect your audience to read a presentation, The slides are for the audience not the presenter, but can be used to remind you about what you should be saying.
  5. Face the audience, maintain eye contact and interact with the audience . Use the laptop as a clue for what to say NOT the screen!!
  6. Use rhetorical devices to grab the attention of the audience: repetition, hyperbole, metaphor and provocative questions.
  7. Finish the presentation with a powerful closing statement.
  8. Hand-outs may be required (this requirement rests with the teacher), but should be given to the teacher rather than the audience. This is so that (i) the teacher can check for accuracy before passing on to students and (ii) we avoid the audience reading the hand-out instead of listening to the presentation. Teachers may choose to include the quality of the hand-out content as part of the assessment and will inform students accordingly.

Slide Construction
  1. Aim for no bullets if possible.
  2. Aim for just one word or phrase on a slide (the nugget of information).
  3. Aim for one powerful image on a slide. That image could be accompanied by minimal text, a symbol or no text at all.
  4. Use real art avoiding clipart wherever possible.
  5. Use your notes section of the presentation sparingly (you should be well prepared, know your topic)
  6. Be creative in capturing and maintaining attention.
  7. Use animations sparingly and only when necessary to get the point across.
  8. Avoid slide transitions.
Maryellen Weimer does a good job in presenting the arguments for and against using PowerPoint in The Teaching Professor Blog of Faculty Focus.The comments she refers to are a good summary. Included amongst these was that PP benefits the teacher, forcing them "to think about, organize, and prioritize the material to be covered in a particular lesson". There is something to this, but I worry about "covering material" as being the objective - surely it is to have students learn (in its broadest meaning - think, know, perform, understand) the ideas being put across?
Her conclusion - that faculty should revisit their use of PowerPoint, what they do and why they do it - is a reminder that we should continuously reflect on the effect (or not!) of our teaching and whether it is achieving what we think it is doing. Is PowerPoint the right tool for the job? When used well it can be.